Smart Fuel for Low-Carb Dieters
Although they may not know it, low-carb dieters have a powerful ally in the nutrient-dense dry bean. Loaded with fiber (a key contributor to weight loss) and other essential vitamins and minerals, beans have a clear edge over most other carbohydrate sources.
Experts at Michigan State University recently reviewed more than 25 years of research on the health benefits of dry beans. This research overwhelmingly identified dry beans as a powerful key to weight loss for three reasons: Eating beans is directly related to increased satiety; beans provide sustained energy; and eating beans can positively affect future food choices.
The term "dry beans" refers to both beans that are dry-packaged and those that are pre-cooked in cans, but does not include green beans, string beans or soybeans. Dry beans include varieties such as pinto, kidney, great northern, navy, lima, garbanzo and black beans.
All Carbohydrates Are Not Created Equal
Beans are a smart choice for low-carb dieters because their high-fiber content creates a feeling of prolonged satiety, among other health benefits.
"Fiber-rich foods provide bulk, which makes you feel full longer," says Fran Carlson, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Bean Education and Awareness Network (B.E.A.N.). "Studies have shown that people who get ample fiber in their diet tend to have a healthier, lower weight than those who don't get enough fiber."
Just 1 cup of cooked beans can provide as much as 15 grams of dietary fiber, which is more than half of the 25 grams recommended daily for adults. Fiber, though nutritionally grouped as a carbohydrate, is what makes a specific food's net carb count lower.
Low Glycemic Index Foods and Weight Maintenance
When choosing carbohydrate sources, it is also important to pay close attention to the glycemic index (GI). The GI measures the effect foods have on blood-glucose levels after they've been eaten. Foods with a low GI release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, providing sustained energy and satiety over a longer period of time.
"Beans have a low GI, so when you eat them your blood sugar stays steady, you maintain energy and you are not compelled to refuel as often," says Carlson. In addition to beans, low GI foods include many whole grains, lean meats and vegetables.
High GI foods are rapidly digested and therefore raise blood sugar levels quickly, leading to post-meal fatigue and a feeling of hunger soon after a meal. These foods include refined starchy foods (such as white bread, some cereals, white potatoes, white rice) and table sugar. Fittingly, a common indicator of a high GI food is its low fiber content.
Beans Affect Eating Behavior
Clinical studies show that when people consume low GI foods, they tend to select subsequent low GI foods, setting up a pattern that leads to lower caloric intake and blood glucose and insulin concentrations. Consequently, eating high GI foods causes people to want to eat again sooner than if they ate lower GI foods – and they're more likely to select high GI foods for the next snack or meal.
"Losing weight and keeping it under control is all about choosing nutrient-rich foods that will fill you up, give you energy and not leave you feeling hungry all the time," says Carlson. "Beans are one of the best choices because they have a low glycemic index. They're also a significant source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals, naturally low in fat and sodium and completely cholesterol-free."